Khaddam indicated on Monday, during the first day of the Baath Party congress, that he intended to retire, said Ahmed Haj Ali on Tuesday, a former Information Ministry adviser.

Rumours of Khaddam's pending resignation have circulated for days. On Monday, Emigrants Affairs Minister Bouthaina Shaaban, who is spokeswoman for the congress, denied that Khaddam had resigned.

Khaddam, 73, has been vice-president for more than 10 years. He wielded considerable influence in Lebanon for many years as Syria's top official for the neighbouring state.

He has been a member of the Baath Party's regional command for almost 30 years. During the Lebanese civil war, he used to visit Beirut and, as Syria's top official for Lebanon, was heavily involved in the day-to-day politics of the country.

"The man would like to open the way for the younger generation," Haj Ali said. "It is his personal wish. He wants to give a positive example to others."